Games of 2014

29 Dec

…THAT WERE ACTUALLY RELEASED IN 2014 AND EVERYTHING

Titanfall

Earlier this year I attempted, with limited success, to describe to some colleagues the actual physical sensation of playing Titanfall. I think my description was along of the lines of a pleasured “mmmnyahhh” and a small shoulder writhe, which in turn was basically me saying “it sends shivers up my spine” without invoking the cliché itself.

TitanFall 2014-05-17 12-23-09-37

Titanfall really deserves better, because it’s easily my second favourite multiplayer shooter of all time. And while it’s a game full of sublime design, like the deceptively intricate maps or the way matches seamlessly escalate from infantry skirmishes to stompy mech battles, I think this is mainly because of the movement. Slick, smooth and empowering, there have been no more exhilarating or intoxicating FPS experiences this year like pulling off a kilometre-long wallrun and doublejump chain while dancing around two-storey robot men and their grenade launcher fire. Titanfall gives you to tools to spend every moment doing something awesome, and for that, I love it.

Ten months after release, it’s a lot quieter than I’d like; it’s almost impossible to find a Capture the Flag match (the best game mode by virtue of leveraging the game’s rocket-propelled parkour for dramatic chase scenes between bases), and what’s left of the playerbase rarely ventures outside of Attrition (team deathmatch). That’s pretty sad – a genuinely innovative installment in gaming’s brownest genre, and no-one plays the damn thing – but when I too eventually move on, my memories will still be filled with aggressively ludicrous acrobatics rather than empty servers.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

How great a surprise was this? A game that screamed “licensed cash-in” one minute and growled “tediously gritty” the next, turning out to be a deep, satisfying action-adventure with no shortage of wit or character.

Most praise for Mordor has focused – deservedly – on the Nemesis system, which populates the world with unique randomly-generated Orcs, each with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses. It’s true that humiliating these shit-talking bastards by exploiting their vulnerabilities never gets old, and that repeated encounters with the same Nemesis can ignite a burning rivalry that’s much more personal than your relationships with the story’s designated villains, but the cleverness of this system makes it easy to forget how well-implemented the less glamorous mechanics were.

ShadowOfMordor 2014-12-28 14-22-11-81

Take the combat, which – while obviously and shamelessly lifted from the Batman: Arkham games – augments free-flowing swordfighting with magical special moves and slow-mo archery. These give fights a dynamic flashiness that makes them just an absolute joy, your character clearly growing in lethality as the combo chain ticks higher and both arcane crowd-control attacks and spectacularly brutal finishing moves become available.

The fact that you’ve got so many different abilities also means that you’re rarely forced to slog through a crowd of enemies by simply hitting them a lot, or that stealth and combat are treated as wholly distinct systems – which is more than could be said for the Arkham games on both counts. Instead, you can adapt to the threat; isolated Orcs make easy prey for stealth takedowns, small and medium-sized groups are best fought with combos and AOE attacks, and giant hordes can be whittled down with the smart application of explosive barrels or teleporting hit-and-run attacks. Shadow of Mordor is a total power fantasy, but the best kind: one that lets you off the leash and allows you to discover that power yourself.

Jazzpunk

Comedy in games usually amounts to one of two things: using a trope commonly agreed to make a game worse while simultaneously pointing out how such tropes are commonly agreed to make a game worse, or knob gags. Jazzpunk has one arse joke early on, but is otherwise one of the few, the proud, the brave: a comedy game that’s actually funny all the way through.

Jazzpunk 2014-12-28 14-09-16-27

Of course, it improves its own chances by delivering cracks at an almost Airplane!-like pace; to avoid showing an visual gag or amusing background event on-screen, you’d pretty much have to point the camera straight at the floor. Even more impressively, Jazzpunk manages to stay on the right side of surprising surrealism without ever teetering over into laboriously “lol random” wackiness.

On that note, one of the more self-involved reasons I appreciate Jazzpunk is that it reaffirms my belief that comedy is best when it’s slightly dialed back. After I involuntarily honked with laughter at a piece of cardboard unexpectedly falling to the ground, I pondered the myriad of ways in which lesser writers might have overcooked such an effectively simple moment. Happily, those writers were too busy blogging about their favourite videogames to have anything to do with Jazzpunk.

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